Lynch silent on FBI’s Clinton decision
Attorney general told lawmakers she can’t comment on closed investigation
WASHINGTON—Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday declined to take a position or expound on the FBI’s decision not to recommend charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“As attorney general, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the underlying facts or conclusion of the investigation,” Lynch told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
Lynch said she accepted the recommendation of the FBI team that conducted the investigation and repeatedly directed Republicans to Director James Comey’s public statement on the matter.
The attorney general’s testimony came one week after Comey announced the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Investigators found Clinton was “extremely careless” with secret information, but Comey said no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against her.
Lynch immediately accepted the recommendation and closed the case, enraging congressional Republicans. On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee grilled Comey, who insisted politics did not motivate the FBI’s decision. He said investigators found no evidence Clinton’s actions were intentionally harmful.
“This defies logic,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the committee. “The law does not require evidence that a person intended to harm the United States in order to be criminally liable for the mishandling of classified information.”
Lynch rebuffed Republican efforts to find out the difference between “extremely careless” and “gross negligence,” the relevant statutory language. She also declined to comment on any perceived double-standard between the Clinton case and instances of prosecution against military members who didn’t protect classified information. “Every case stands on its own facts,” Lynch said. “All of the relevant facts were considered and reviewed entirely by the entire team.”
She also declined to say if it is legal or illegal to provide classified information to someone without a security clearance, or if a person who did so would be prohibited from being promoted.
Midway through the hearing, Goodlatte expressed disappointment with Lynch’s refusal to answer questions and called it an “abdication of your responsibility. This is a very important issue about whether the Justice Department is going to uphold the rule of law.”
Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich., who spoke more than four hours into the hearing, said his staff counted 74 times Lynch had declined to answer a question.
Lynch was slightly more talkative regarding her June 27 meeting with former President Bill Clinton—her former boss—on an airport tarmac in Phoenix. She said it was an unplanned encounter that included only personal topics. Lynch said she has never discussed the email investigation with either Bill or Hillary Clinton.
After members of both parties criticized the appearance of the June meeting, Lynch announced she would accept the FBI’s recommendation in the email investigation. She told the committee it was the first time she had made such an announcement, leading Republicans to accuse her of inappropriately ceding her authority.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, noted Lynch gave no indication she did her own due diligence on the case and asked if she read the transcript of the FBI’s three-and-a-half hour interview with Clinton. She declined to say yes.
“Your oath was not to follow the recommendation of some team,” Gohmert said. “Your oath is your own responsibility to our Constitution and those that are working under you.”
Last week The New York Times reported Hillary Clinton may decide to retain Lynch as attorney general, and Lynch wouldn’t rule it out when pressed on the possibility.
The hearing see-sawed back and forth between the Clinton investigation and other matters, as Democrats either ignored the email probe or criticized Republicans for “beating a dead horse.” Democrats focused on gun violence and police accountability and brutality issues, but they also discussed immigration, the Voting Rights Act, prisoner transportation, and music copyright law.
“Apparently, Secretary Clinton’s email takes precedence over gun violence and civil rights,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the committee.
Although Goodlatte mentioned it in his opening statement, Republicans shied away from asking Lynch if Clinton committed perjury when she appeared before the House Select Committee on Benghazi last year. On Monday, Goodlatte asked the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to investigate the matter.
“The evidence collected by the FBI during its investigation of Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email system appears to directly contradict several aspects of her sworn testimony,” Goodlatte wrote in a letter also signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight committee.
Following Comey’s announcement last week, the State Department announced it would reopen its probe into Clinton’s email practices—leaving open the possibility of sanctions. In May, a State Department inspector general’s report found Clinton’s insecure email server caused significant security risk.
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